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Amatus Lusitanus

AMATUS LUSITANUS

AMATUS LUSITANUS (João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco ; 1511–1568), physician; one of the greatest Jewish figures in medical literature in the first half of the 16th century. Amatus Lusitanus was born to Marrano parents in the town of Castelo Branco, Portugal. His parents were only outwardly Christians and from them Amatus Lusitanus inherited his attachment to Jewish tradition and a knowledge of Hebrew. He studied medicine in Spain at the University of Salamanca, and received his degree in about 1530. He returned to Portugal to pursue his practice, but when the situation of the Marranos worsened, and hostility toward Marrano doctors increased, he moved to Antwerp (1533). Three years later he published his first book on medicinal botany (materia medica), the Index Dioscorides – the only book he published under his baptismal name, Joannus Rodericus. His other works were written under the name "Amatus Lusitanus." "Amatus" was probably derived from his family name, which may have been Ḥaviv ("beloved"). It is probable that he established his connections with the *Nasi family during this period and he dedicated one of his centuriae to Joseph Nasi.

Because of Amatus Lusitanus' great fame as a physician and scientist, the duke of Ferrara, Ercole ii d'Este, in 1540 appointed him lecturer in medicine at the University of Ferrara, a city where there existed both religious freedom and freedom for scientific research. Among his friends were the physician Brassavola (who wrote about medicinal plants), the anatomist, Canano, and the botanist, Falconer. Lusitanus worked with Canano on dissecting corpses. In one of the centuriae, he wrote that he performed 12 dissections of corpses (dissecare fecimus), a large number for this early stage of anatomy, in order to clarify one single detail of the structure of veins. He carried out other experiments on corpses to prove the possibility of performing certain operations (Centuriae 1, curatio 61).

While in Ferrara, Amatus declined an offer to become court physician to the king of Poland, Sigismund ii. Instead, he accepted the invitation of the free republic of Ragusa (today Dubrovnik), to become the town physician. In 1547 Amatus Lusitanus left Ferrara, and went to Ancona to await his official letter of appointment. Here he was called upon to cure the sister of Pope Julius iii, and became permanent physician to several monasteries (in Centuriae 4 and 5, he describes the illnesses of the monks). In 1549 he finished his first centuria, in which he collected 100 medical case histories and described their treatment and results. Many of the cases (curationes) are accompanied by learned explanations, clarifying various opinions on these cases, and dealing with the pathology and the treatment of the subject. Between 1549 and 1561 he wrote seven centuriae, which established his reputation as a thorough researcher in various fields, including anatomy, internal medicine, dermatology, and mental illness. The centuriae are also a mine of information on 16th century medical history, social life, and individual biography.

Amatus' fame was such that he was ordered to Rome several times to treat Pope Julius iii. A number of cities invited him to treat their sick. In 1551 he was invited to accept the post of court physician to the ruler of Transylvania, but refused. Amatus finished his commentary on Dioscorides' work on materia medica in 1549 and published it in Venice under the title In Dioscoridis enarrationes (1553). The book was published six times in this form. In the 1558 edition (Lyons), it covers 800 pages, with 30 excellent illustrations, mainly woodcuts of plants but also of animals and birds. He gives the names of flora and fauna in Greek, Latin, Italian, and Arabic, and sometimes in French and German. This work is among the first ever published on materia medica. In it Amatus mentions several mistakes that he found in Matthioli's commentary on Dioscorides, which had been published in 1544. Matthioli, a famous botanist and court physician in Vienna, would not tolerate any criticism. He attacked Lusitanus in insulting and vulgar terms and accused him of heresy. Nevertheless, Amatus' works on materia medica won international renown. When Pope Paul iv was elected in 1555 and the *Ancona decrees against Marranos were published, Amatus' home was looted, together with his library and the manuscripts of his works. It was Matthioli's hatred and baseless charge of heresy which were the main reasons for this persecution. Amatus managed to escape first to Pesaro and then in 1556 to Ragusa, where he spent two peaceful years. In 1558 he moved to Salonika, which had a large Jewish community. There Amatus openly practiced Judaism, and mainly treated Jewish patients. It was in Salonika that he died of the plague.

In Centuria 1, curatio 52, Amatus Lusitanus vividly described his important discovery of the valves in the veins, which direct the bloodstream in one direction and prevent it from flowing back the opposite way. Because of a misinterpretation of the Latin text, the discovery was long attributed to Canano. The discovery of the valves has also been wrongly attributed to Fabricius, who described them at a later date. Amatus also demonstrated that the optic nerves are not hollow, and that the cavity of the human womb is not divided. He described the structure of the mammary gland, and a treatment for inflammation of the lactating breast. He used enemas to feed a man suffering from a stricture of the esophagus. He also gave a precise description of the enlargement of the spleen and the changes in its consistency which are characteristic of chronic malaria.

Amatus Lusitanus' lofty medical ethics are demonstrated in the oath printed at the end of his sixth and seventh centuriae. The oath, written after his return to Judaism, is one of the most exalted literary documents in medical ethics. He takes the oath in the name of "the Ten Holy Commandments, which were delivered into the hands of Moses on Mount Sinai for the people who were redeemed from bondage in Egypt." This oath emphasizes the philanthropic side of the art of healing and the need to aid the poor and the needy. In this it differs (as do the Christian oaths) from the professional materialism of the Hippocratic oath. His Latin is fluent and graceful and does not contain the barbarities of style and vocabulary common in medieval Latin. All this helped to popularize the centuriae with its readers. Twenty-three different editions of Amatus' works are known (together with that on materia medica). They have not yet been fully translated into a modern language, although the first three centuriae have been translated into Portuguese (1946– ). From the point of view of Jewish history, Lusitanus' life exemplifies the internal struggle and emotional burden to which Marranos were subjected. Despite the necessity of concealing his origins, he emphasizes in his books, long before his open return to Judaism, his attachment to Jewish values. In one of his centuriae, he quotes the opinions of Maimonides, with no particular relevance to the context. In his description of the treatment of Azariah dei *Rossi, who was apparently suffering from a gastric ulcer, Amatus Lusitanus described the customs and eating habits of the Jews. There is a figure of Amatus Lusitanus above the door of the medical faculty of the University of Coimbra and he is also represented in the tableau of "Portuguese Medicine" in the medical faculty of Lisbon University.

bibliography:

Leibowitz, in: Eitanim, 1 (1948), 23f.; idem, in: Ha-Refu'ah, 39 (1950), 9; idem, in: Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 27 (1953), 212–16; idem, in: Estudos Castelo Branco (1968); idem, in: Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences, 12 (1957), 189–96; 13 (1958), 492–503; 15 (1960), 364–71; Proceedings of the 21st International Congress of the History of Medicine, Siena 1968; E.H.F. Meyer, Geschichte der Botanik, 4 (1857), 385–9; M. Salomon, Amatus Lusitanus und seine Zeit (1901); M. Lemos, Amato Lusitano: a sua vida e a sua obra (Port., 1907); Rudy, in: Archeion, 13 (1931), 424 (It.); L. Šik, Juedische Aerzte in Jugoslawien (1931), 9–20; H. Friedenwald, Jews and Medicine, 1 (1944), 332–80; Lopes Dias (ed.), Homenagem ao Doutor João Rodrigues de Castelo Branco (1955).

[Joshua O. Leibowitz]

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